Davy Gordon (Jamie Smith) is a boxer who is well aware that he is reaching the end of his professional career, but he is still fighting on and has a match tonight with Kid Rodriguez, a younger and more promising fighter. Davy lives in a pokey New York apartment with his pet goldfish, but occasionally he will look out of his window across the way at one of the people who shares the block with him. She is Gloria Price (Irene Kane), the moll of a big city gangster, Vincent Rapallo (Frank Silvera), and does not realise she is about to cross paths with Davy...
Stanley Kubrick had directed before, with short documentaries and the low budget war film Fear and Desire, but Killer's Kiss was the film he considered his first proper work, and funnily enough was one of the only efforts he directed where he came up with the story. You might be able to see why he did not write the plotlines himself more often by looking at this, for it is a collection of film noir clichés just at the time where the genre was going out of fashion, but where he scored was with the whole appearance of the film, with its crisp black and white photgraphy.
Kubrick had been a professional magazine photgrapher of course, and his eye for composition and what essentially amounted to a great shot was well in evidence on this cheap thriller. Even when the narrative is skipping from hackneyed development to contrived character, you can sit back and admire the director's skill with the camera, which contributes to a fine atmosphere. Also helping with the mood is some excellent location work, which had the crew take to the streets of New York almost guerrilla style and do their best to offer up a strong sense of place.
In this they succeeded, but Kubrick was not above empty pretension. Nowhere is this clearer than in the sequence where Gloria relates a rambling tale of her ballet dancing sister for no good reason than it provided Kubrick's then-wife with a cameo as the ballerina and perhaps padded the film out to more than an hour - not much more, mind you. Its brevity is one of its blessings, as tight editing means few scenes hang around for longer than is really necessary, but technically there are aspects which let it down, not least some uneven dubbing throughout.
Davy is beaten in his fight, and when he gets home he falls asleep (cue 2001: A Space Odyssey-style dream sequence... well, sort of) only to be jolted awake by the sound of Gloria's screams from the apartment opposite. He rushes over, narrowly missing Rapallo, and finds himself as a knight in shining armour to this damsel in distress, a state which will get them both in deep trouble. As they swiftly fall in love, Rapallo tightens his grip on Gloria and it all ends up with Davy rescuing her once more when she is kidnapped; the best part of the film then follows, a foot chase that culminates in a full on fight in a warehouse stacked with mannequins. The happy ending was apparently requested by the producers, but for most viewers Killer's Kiss will be an insight into where it all began for the famed director rather than a wholly satisfying story. Music by Gerald Fried.
American director famous for his technical skills and endless film shoots, who made some of modern cinema's greatest pictures. New York-born Kubrick began shooting documentaries in the early 50s, leading to his first directing jobs on the moody noir thrillers Killer's Kiss and The Killing. The powerful anti-war film Paths of Glory followed, leading star Kirk Douglas to summon Kubrick to direct the troubled Spartacus in 1960.
Lolita was a brave if not entirely successful attempt to film Nabokov's novel, but Kubrick's next three films were all masterpieces. 1964's Dr Strangelove was a brilliant, pitch black war comedy, 2001: A Space Odyssey set new standards in special effects, while A Clockwork Orange was a hugely controversial, shocking satire that the director withdrew from UK distribution soon after its release. Kubrick, now relocated to England and refusing to travel elsewhere, struggled to top this trio, and the on-set demands on his cast and crew had become infamous.
Barry Lyndon was a beautiful but slow-paced period piece, The Shining a scary Stephen King adaptation that was nevertheless disowned by the author. 1987's Vietnam epic Full Metal Jacket showed that Kubrick had lost none of his power to shock, and if the posthumously released Eyes Wide Shut was a little anti-climatic, it still capped a remarkable career.